published Friday, April 5th, 2013

Andy Berke puts focus on education


by Cliff Hightower
Mayor-elect Andy Burke looks on as Edna Varner, a STEM teacher, addresses the public regarding new directions that city education policies should take at Chattanooga State on Thursday. Following the panel break out groups consisting of attendees from the panel discussed changes that need to occur to better the community.
Mayor-elect Andy Burke looks on as Edna Varner, a STEM teacher, addresses the public regarding new directions that city education policies should take at Chattanooga State on Thursday. Following the panel break out groups consisting of attendees from the panel discussed changes that need to occur to better the community.
Photo by Jay Bailey.

PANELISTS

* Bea Lurie, president and CEO of Girls Inc.

* Lurone Jennings, executive director and life coach of The Bethlehem Center

* Phil Accord, president and CEO of Chambliss Center for Children

* Hunter Huckabey, director of Gear-Up

* Edna Varner, new teacher coach, STEM teacher

Source: Mayor-elect Andy Berke administration

Mayor-elect Andy Berke gave a small glimpse Thursday night of his next administration by saying that in some way the city will be involved in early childhood education.

"City government will be reoriented for youth development," Berke said.

He did not give details about whether that could mean the reorganization or creation of a new department. But a forum held Thursday night by Berke at Chattanooga State Community College focused heavily on early childhood development.

More than 480 people attended the event, rivaling the number of people who attended a similar event about crime two weeks ago.

Councilman-elect Jerry Mitchell said afterward if there is a new emphasis on putting more city dollars into either prekindergarten or after-school education he would support it.

"There needs to be," he said.

When asked where the money could come from, Mitchell said it would have to be placed in the list of priorities of the city budget.

Berke and a new City Council are set to take office on Monday, April 15. Berke has named three members of his staff but has yet to name department administrators.

The forum followed the same format as a crime forum two weeks ago with a panelist of experts speaking followed by small focus groups.

While Berke talked about how the city could help in education, an hour earlier officials announced tangible proof of the city entering the education business.

The Parks and Recreation Department, along with the Chattanooga Gang Task Force, said the law firm of Miller & Martin donated $5,000 for an after-school reading program at Carver Recreational Center.

Boyd Patterson, task force coordinator, said there could be four more programs started by United Way within the next few months. But whether those after-school education programs continue throughout the rest of the city's recreation centers depends on the next administration, he said.

"The direction the next mayor takes is key," he said.

Berke, at the forum, said the centers would have a role, along with other community centers. But the recreation centers are key, he said.

"Our recreation centers are noticed," Berke said.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.

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